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Self-employed People: Covid-19

Volume 682: debated on Tuesday 20 October 2020

What steps his Department is taking to support self-employed people affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (907770)

What fiscal steps he is taking to support self-employed people not eligible for the self-employment income support scheme. (907781)

What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the extension of the self-employment income support scheme. (907788)

The Government have taken unprecedented steps to support the self-employed, as the House will be aware. So far, the Government have paid out £13.4 billion of support through the self-employment income support scheme.

I recently had a Zoom call with Deborah Annetts, the CEO of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, and Jordan and Steve from a local Northampton band called The Keepers, and they highlighted the problems that self-employed musicians currently face. Will my right hon. Friend support struggling musicians such as The Keepers by considering either a freelance support scheme or a box office top-up to help to make socially distanced gigs feasible?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. With a name like Jesse Norman—my hon. Friend will know that there was an American opera singer, now alas dead, of the same name—and as someone who has been involved in arts organisations and, indeed, as a pretty incompetent musician myself, I am extremely aware of the concern that he raises, and rightly so. He will know that the Government have announced a £1.57 billion culture recovery fund, of which some £330 million has been awarded to date to nearly 2,000 cultural organisations. That funding is designed to help performances to restart, to protect jobs and to create opportunities for freelancers across the country. It is also worth mentioning that we have done a considerable amount of work on the film and TV production restart scheme, much of which will have the same effect when it is properly up and running.

I have been contacted every day by sole traders and small independents who have fallen through the Government’s schemes. They are excluded and do not qualify for Government support. According to ExcludedUK, 1.6 million people are excluded from any of the Government’s self-support schemes. Last week, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), the Chief Secretary said that these people had now been covered. They have not been covered. They are excluded and they are desperate for help. Will the Minister set out what support he will provide to the people who are excluded in this country from self-support grants?

I am sure that whatever the Chief Secretary said last week was absolutely correct. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the scheme we have is designed to be as comprehensive as we can make it, consistent with the wider package we are offering and with support rapidly for the largest number of the most vulnerable people. That was the purpose of the scheme. We have continued the theme of supporting the self-employed through the job support scheme, and of course, that itself forms part of a much wider pattern of support for the industry and for businesses.

I very much welcome everything the Chancellor has done to protect jobs, businesses and livelihoods in my constituency and across Scotland. Many of the self-employed constituents in my area will be very grateful for the third grant that is now available to them. Can the Minister set out the number of people who will be eligible for the grant in Scotland?

We are unable to predict the exact take-up of the SEISS grant extension across the United Kingdom, but the latest statistics on the second grant demonstrate that self-employed people in Scotland are continuing to receive unprecedented levels of support under the scheme. As of 20 September, 64% of assessed individuals were found to be eligible in Scotland, with 126,000 claims being made, amounting to £318 million of Government support.

My constituent Rebecca launched a new business, Purdy’s Pet Shop, in Coventry North West just before the lockdown. Rebecca was told that she was ineligible for the self-employment income support scheme and faced a frustrating few weeks until she was eventually granted a coronavirus business interruption loan. That is just one business among many that fell through the gaping holes of the first self-employment income support scheme. Now it, and many other businesses in my constituency, will also fall through the gaps in the new extension.

Constituents have contacted me about how anxious they feel about how they will survive now that support has dropped to just 70%. Can the Minister tell me how adequate he believes the extension of the self-employment income support scheme is? What will he do to support my constituents who are falling through the gaps of the current scheme and are worried about the reduced financial support it offers?

I salute the hon. Lady’s constituent for setting up a new business and for showing the entrepreneurship and aspiration that characterise British business at its best. As she will be aware, we are engaged in the process of supporting vulnerable businesses and people. In the self-employment area, we are doing that through the extension to the job support scheme. She will know that that forms just one element of a much wider picture, including the loans that she has described, tax deferrals, rental support and increased levels of universal credit.

I associate myself with the concerns raised by colleagues cross-party on this issue. It is interesting that every time the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box, he bats off extra support for those people, yet some of them may have qualified for bounce back loans. I am interested to know whether the Treasury knows how many qualified for bounce back loans, because a recent National Audit Office report suggests that the Treasury does not know where the money has gone and what it is being used for, so perhaps he can elucidate.

I admire the hon. Lady’s ingenuity in introducing a conversation about bounce back loans to a discussion about the self-employed scheme. The answer is that I do not have the numbers to hand, but of course, if those numbers are available, I will make sure that we write to her with the detail.